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CIP School in the Phils.

Hanbok and Its History

on August 21, 2012
A display of models wearing hwarot, Korean tra...

A display of models wearing hwarot, Korean traditional costume for bride. Crowns called jokduri on the left model’s head and hwagwan on the right. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hanbok and Its History

Hanbok means literally “Korean dress,” the traditional clothing that Koreans have worn through the ages. Hanbok is also the national dress that Koreans often use to express their sense of identity. Thus, the hanbok is the “face” of the Korean people, embodying their characteristics and aesthetics.

The oldest form of hanbok can be seen in tomb mural paintings from the Goguryeo Kingdom (37 B.C.-668 A.D.). In these murals, both men and women wear an upper garment of the jeogori or “jacket” type over trousers or a skirt, though the cut of the costume differs noticeably according to social status or occupation. The basic feature of the hanbok from this period is that the male and female versions are similar, each comprising an upper and a lower garment.

In general, men wore a jacket and pants, women a jacket and skirt, while on formal occasions, both might wear a topcoat or gown over this outfit. The upper and lower garments were of different colors. An especially distinctive feature was the use of a wide band, darker than the main color, along the collar, front hem, and bottom hem of the upper garment. The same darker color might also be used for a belt that emphasized the shape of the upper garment and gave the wearer a geometrical look by dividing the body spatially.

There were many variations on this use of decorative lines, and sometimes a second, thinner line was added. From this we can infer that line decoration was used as an aesthetic element designed to make the upper garment stand out as a focus of attention. It may also have served a practical purpose in making the edges of the garment stronger and more resistant to soiling.

The fabric of the costume is depicted as decorated with dots in various designs, and these have been interpreted as simplifications of the decorative designs that were actually used on clothing of the period. Clothing in the contemporary kingdoms of Baekje (18 B.C.-660 A.D.) and Silla (57 B.C-668 A.D.) is believed to have been similar to that of Goguryeo Kingdom in basic shape, with some differences in size and fit, coloring, and headdress. In state ceremonies, the king, queen and officials wore the Chinese-influenced formal dress, but under this they wore traditional Korean clothing. The ceremonial dress of the king, and even the hat and shoes worn with it, varied with the nature of the ceremony. The status of other wearers was reflected in the design and coloring of their clothes. Dragon designs were restricted to the royal family: the five-clawed dragon could only be worn by the king and queen, the four-clawed dragon by the crown prince, and the three-clawed dragon by the crown prince’s eldest son.

Officials, similarly, were differentiated by the designs embroidered on the front and back of their gowns: civil officials sported a crane, military officials a tiger, and the larger the number of cranes or tigers, the higher the rank of the wearer. Status was also symbolized by color. Yellow stood for the emperor, red for the king, and purple for the crown prince, while violet, blue, and green were used to distinguish the rank of officials.

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